CHARLESTON - Attorney Kevin Thompson has a clear-as-clean-water message for Rawl Sales and Processing coal mining company.
"The biggest opponent of frivolous lawsuits has filed one against me. To hell with them," he said. "If they want to sue me, to hell with them."
Thompson and partner Martin Smith are representing a group of hundreds of citizens suing Rawl Sales and Processing for alleged contamination of the drinking water in Rawl, a town in Mingo County.
Rawl, in turn, has sued Smith and Thompson over a letter Thompson wrote to the Mingo County Commission.
That letter stated: "We have collected a massive amount of evidence that proves beyond any doubt the water in the Forgotten Communities is deadly. Our evidence proves that Rawl Sales and Processing knowingly contaminated the water. Our evidence shows that they did it without permits. And, our evidence shows that the people of Rawl are slowly dying."
The letter goes on to offer the Commission assistance in finding a source of cleaner water.
Thompson argues he was only trying to help the citizens of Rawl. Rawl Sales and Processing argues that he defamed its character and filed a lawsuit last week in Kanawha Circuit Court.
The quality of water in the town is an issue that was publicized in the March edition of National Geographic. Thompson says a woman living in Rawl first brought the problem to attention in 1994, and he has been involved in litigation against Rawl Sales and Processing since 2003.
In 1994, the Department of Environmental Protection ordered that Massey Energy Company, the owner of Rawl Sales and Processing, provide a temporary water replacement.
Massey took the case before the Surface Mine Board, which ruled in favor of the mining company.
Since then, the citizens of Rawl have been intent on making Massey accountable for the condition of their water. There is a Preliminary Injunction ordered against Rawl Sales and Processing but the issue of final liability has not been determined yet.
"My intention in sending the letter to the Mingo County Commission was so that it could be part of the Commission's records. I assume its available to the public," Thompson said.
"That was sent in March. Just moments ago, the County Commission announced they finally have the funding to get a permanent source of clean water for my clients."
Thompson says he has seen the contaminated water firsthand and says it contains slurry and a bacteria that is thriving on the chemicals contained in it.
He also said that when he added the water to Pepto Bismol, the Pepto Bismol turned from pink to black.
The list of plaintiffs against Rawl Sales and Processing continues to grow, he says, as people who moved away from the Rawl area now have contacted him with effects that have lingered since being exposed to the water.
He added that tests on the water have shown that it contains materials like arsenic and uranium, though the lawsuits against Rawl Sales and Processing, he admits, are "in limbo."
But for now he's happy the citizens of Rawl can drink from their faucets again.
"The thing is ridiculous," he said. "I just can't stress the irony more. We fought all those years, I sent a letter and a huge coal company sues me for representing these people.
"Now they've got the fresh water they've been fighting for since '94."